8 Phantom Characters from Mortal Kombat
Back when I dug through all sorts of little discrepancies in Mortal Kombat history to put together my history piece on Tremor, I found a lot of other little tidbits regarding characters that never were, or almost included, or even 100% fabricated. I was aware of a few of these, but quite a few were brand new to me.
Will we ever see these characters “for real” one day? Who knows! After all, Ermac started life as an alleged glitch (as did Skarlet), Blaze began as the background character “Torch,” and Rain’s first appearance was part joke and part red herring.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you are, many other characters never quite evolved as much as these four. In no particular order (though I did try to save the more infamous “characters” until the end), here are 8 such characters, followed by a few others with a more ambiguous status.
Chow Kang…sounds kind of similar to Liu Kang, right? Depending on how well you remember the movie (the original Mortal Kombat from 1995), you may remember that Liu’s ultimate motivation for joining the tournament was to find his brother Chow. We also see a quick dream sequence at the beginning where Tsung himself appears to “fatality” Chow.
This wouldn’t really be that important except for a strange article that appeared in a foreign magazine, supposedly filled with information directly from the mouth of Ed Boon about the then-upcoming roster for Mortal Kombat 4.
When I first started on this piece, I was content to simply show you this magazine article and leave it at that. But in order to make “the Chow Kang story” a little more substantial, I decided to transcribe and translate not only the outlined text (which is really just a list of names) but the entire piece!
It turns out that the language is Polish! There are some oddities in the translation; I can’t figure out what the title is supposed to be, but knowing the name of the magazine would help. It’s something like “Ed Boon at the end of high five” or “Ed Boon in late high five”…obviously I need the assistance of someone who speaks Polish. Regardless, the text itself is fairly sensible. Using Google Translate and polishing up the grammatical inconsistencies as best I can, here’s what it says. There are some strange factual errors, but we’ll get to them in a minute.
Here’s a little more about the fifth part of the MK series. The MIDWAY company officially announced that they have been working on MK5 and that the game should be available in arcades by the middle of next year. Utilizing the ZEUS 2 card, four times more powerful than its predecessor, the game will be fully three-dimensional and contain up to 20 characters. Here they are: Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Jax, Sonya, Shao Kahn, Goro, Nimbus, Noob Saibot, Shinnok, Jarod, Master Ch,ng, Kitana, Kabal, Chow Kang, Cyrax, Fujin, Baraka, Smoke, Sister Sub-Zero, and Shang Tsung.
Beyond this, the article discusses something about a “first version” in “August.” It then appears to be cut off, but then picks back up with a rough synopsis of the plot of MK4 albeit with major changes, such as Shao Kahn being the son of Shinnok, a resurrected Kung Lao, and a new guardian of Earthrealm, Fujin. Then there’s another break, and it picks back up advertising a Mortal Kombat television series, presumably Mortal Kombat Conquest.
But let’s get back to Chow Kang and the translated text. First of all, the screenshots accompanying the article are obviously from MK4. Why was it known as “MK5” in Poland? Who knows. Clearly, however, what we know as MK4 is the topic of discussion. And there he is, right there in the alleged roster, Chow Kang himself. He’s keeping strange company too, with “characters” such as “Master Ch,ng” (still haven’t figured that one out…), Nimbus (we’ll talk about him later), “‘Sister’ Sub-Zero” (a precursor to Frost in Deadly Alliance? (or what we know as “MK5”)), and “Jarod,” which could be either a corruption of “Jarek” (an actual MK4 character) or “Jerrod” as in “King Jerrod,” Kitana’s father and Sindel’s husband (also said to be one of the dominant souls within Ermac).
The popular notion is that this information came straight from Ed Boon, but after looking at the translation, this claim seems a little suspect. Furthermore, if it did come straight from Boon, why didn’t we hear about it in the States? Why is it tucked away in a Polish publication with bizarre names like “Master Ch,ng”? A gross misinterpretation? A hoax? A tale told by an idiot? We may never know.
We really don’t have much info on this phantom character either, but it seems that at one time or another this “Emerald” was thrown in among two other secret characters of Mortal Kombat II, Jade and Smoke. I don’t know what magazine this clipping originally came from, though one source marks it as an article from Game Informer. Unless it’s a flat out hoax, it appears to originate during the early days of MK2. This article is bizarre for a number of reasons including…well, let’s just take a look at it first and see if you can spot the inaccuracies.
I’m not sure if the writer was hallucinating, badly (badly) misinformed, or again, setting off to perpetuate the next Ermac hoax (had Ermac been completely disproven by then…?) but the article espouses a very bizarre claim. First it suggests that there are 5 hidden characters in MK2; of course we now know that there are only 3. Second it claimed that of these five only three were known at the time: Jade, Emerald, and Smoke. Where’s Noob Saibot? Third, it suggests that all of the game’s secret characters can be reached via the “Question Mark” spot on the regular 1 player ladder. (This is how we get to one of them…) Fourth, Smoke is pegged as a “Raiden look-a-like.” Huh!? Did the writer (or his/her source) even play the game? Or did they just publish absolutely goofy information? (Funny that they couldn’t be bothered to spell “Kitana” right and instead opted for the sword, “Katana.”)
Do we even need to keep going? Reaching the “Question Mark” isn’t about not using the punch buttons, it’s about only using “low kick.” And you don’t have to finish with a Flawless Victory either…win the first round with nothing but “low kick,” and you’ll be taken to fight Jade. None of this “question mark popping out of the portal nonsense”…you fight Jade, and win or lose, when you’re taken back to the ladder, you’re seen moving from the “Question Mark” up to Shang Tsung.
Beyond a fight with Jade, obviously none of this shit ever happened. Still, seems like any credible magazine would at least do some basic testing before rushing this to print and risking reader backlash. Oh well. Emerald does have a little bit of an internet following out there, typically appearing as a teal/turquoise or sometimes light green palette swap of the female ninjas.
It’s worth noting that there’s a whole ‘nother version of the story where “Emerald” was an unofficial name given to a glitchy Mileena-turned-green in the same way that the alleged Kitana-turned-red was dubbed “Skarlet.” Emerald has never been mentioned in any official material that I know of, though at least one outside source cites that she was scrapped in Deadly Alliance in favor of Kitana, and again in Deception to make room for Jade. I doubt either of these are true (I doubt Midway or NetherRealm Studios has even given a passing thought to Emerald), but it just goes to show the rampant and rabid fandom for characters who don’t friggin’ exist.
I suppose that Emerald and Chow Kang are in line with what could be actual MK characters, but this next one is beyond ridiculous. How anyone ever latched onto the belief that Pedro existed is beyond me. Another hoax? Or really terrible, untested information? Or perhaps bizarre wishful thinking? Once again your guess is as good as mine, but here’s the actual article describing “exactly” how to access Pedro from the PlayStation port of Mortal Kombat 3.
Not only do the requirements seem a bit shady based on what we know of MK games, I find it highly unlikely that the game would crash itself and then come back with an all new secret menu. It’s also interesting that the other 3 secret characters (Rain, Noob, and Human Smoke) have already been “confirmed.” It’s a weird situation – this was around the time that Ultimate MK 3 was out in arcades and MK3 was making its way to the PlayStation, apparently following an announcement that UMK3 would not be ported to the PS1. The entire premise behind this “cheat” was that even though the PS1 wouldn’t see UMK3, several UMK3 elements were already hidden in the MK3 port. Interestingly enough, the PS1 MK3 came out in ’95, but the home versions of UMK3 didn’t drop until ’96. That means that, at this point, Rain and Noob Saibot didn’t yet exist as playable characters (though both actually did appear as playable characters in the home release of UMK3). In retrospect, this “cheat” actually predicted quite a bit about how the home versions of UMK3 would turn out, though I find it laughable that although they’d figured out how to access this new character select screen, they still couldn’t fill in those 3 gaps in the middle (Mileena, Ermac, and Classic Sub-Zero).
Naturally this is more 100% fabrication on the part of….somebody. The legend of Pedro includes “fire farts” and a sinister looking Stryker palette swap with a mustache. Ultimately this was outed as an April Fool’s prank if I’m not mistaken, but I seriously can’t help but wonder how many people tried to perfectly execute those simultaneous Teleport Uppercuts! I, for one, am glad that Pedro never joined the battle.
Even if this hadn’t been outed as a joke, the astute observer will notice a few irregularities in the above “alternate character select screen.” Check out Human Smoke in the lower right; this is obviously a reproduction of Kitana’s head shot (upper left) that’s had the colors fudged with and part of the hair and face filled in to appear as black hood. Noob Saibot, directly under Scorpion (upper right), looks to be a mirrored image of Reptile (next to Kitana) with the head and shoulder blacked out. The background is a dead giveaway. Rain (upper left, under Kitana) is a (poor) modification of Scorpion’s head shot. You can even see where the purple mask has been raiser higher up on the face to try to conceal Scorpion’s empty eye sockets and skull-like appearance. The slight reflection on the left side of the top of the head is another strong giveaway. Finally there’s Pedro, a mirrored version of Stryker with a few color changes and crappy mustache.
Certainly one of the hokier names for an MK secret character, Red Robin’s origins are a little harder to trace. In what seems like a combination of yet another Ermac-like “discovery” and a quick jab at the already noticeable palette swapping by the time of MK2, only a few scant details ever surfaced. Below is the “found” Red Robin from the SNES port of MK2 (as evidenced by the Goro’s Lair arena).
To my knowledge, this little excerpt (said to appear in The Mortal Kombat II Official Player’s Guide) is the only “hard proof” of Red Robin’s existence. Looks like a pretty crappy fake to me, though I guess it was a lot harder to write off suspicious images to amateurs with Photoshop back in the early 90’s – people were more willing to accept what they saw. Was this one of the 2 remaining secret characters alluded to in the Emerald article? Possibly….then again it doesn’t really mater….
Now let’s shift gears – if only momentarily – to talk about one of the most active non-characters within the fan community – Khrome. Who the eff is Khrome? Yeah, I had to ask that a few times myself – apparently his inception was a little after my time. I wish I had more to tell, but truthfully Khrome has mostly been pushed forward by the fans and has only one small “appearance.”
As part of Pop Culture Shock’s series of 1:4 scale model statues inspired by UMK3, a Human Smoke figurine was developed. A factory accident (similar to those that recently produced the “two cannon Samus” and “legless Peach” Amiibo) produced a figure who’s forearms appeared to be covered in “chrome” or made of “liquid metal” much like the appearance of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 villain in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Additionally, there must’ve been a color mix up somewhere, because Smoke’s typical gray was replaced with a shimmering, reflective white-ish color, a la chrome. Here’s what the original was supposed to look like.
Unfortunately for the public, this “happy accident” was a pure one-off; it didn’t end up packaged and distributed by the thousands before the error was caught. Instead the company personally offered it up to Ed Boon himself, but not before Tweeting a few pictures of the “accidental ninja” who Pop officially refers to as “the chromium variant.” Fans quickly latched onto this production error (what is it with MK fans tripping over themselves to canonize jokes, mishaps, mistakes, and rumors…?) and Khrome was not only born, but gained a fairly substantial life of his own considering his non-existence. In all fairness, I guess “Khrome” is pretty damn cool looking…
I doubt that we’ll officially see Khrome enter canon anytime soon, but who knows? Stranger things have certainly happened, and with Tremor now occupying a playable slot in MK lore, Khrome may just be the guy that the next generation of MK fans gets behind. MK fan-fiction often walks a thin line between the ridiculous and the sublime (though generally falling to the “ridiculous” side) but most concentrate on Khrome’s ability to mold his arms into various shapes. Below is one of the most popular, updated post-palette swap fan interpretations of Khrome. Looks a bit like the third season Power Rangers if you ask me; grime it up a little and add details like belts, buckles, straps, and various trinkets, and he could definitely fit in with today’s fighters.
Surprise surprise, another ninja-ish “ghost” character! This oddity supposedly existed in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and unlike many of the characters on this list, actually has some factual basis behind him. The speculation is that Aqua was intended to be an exclusive to the European versions of MKT, specifically the “Platinum Release” for the PlayStation. I am immediately skeptical of this claim; what indication do we have that Midway would’ve ever released a PAL exclusive character? The backlash from fans alone would be enough to soil their name…unless of course they planned to stick him in an “updated” US release all along…
Depending on who you believe, there are various pieces of the puzzle with various degrees of “officialness.” Despite the multitude of assertions, only a few seem 100% verifiable; beyond that, it’s difficult to tell the difference between rumor, heresay, and outright fabrication. Perhaps the most convincing piece of “evidence” comes to us from The Official UK PlayStation Magazine (they didn’t hold back with the creativity when coming up with that title, did they?) and a little blurb it published about MKT, strangely mentioning no one other than Aqua himself. Take a look.
It’s not a great scan, but there in the upper right is an alleged screenshot of Aqua opposite Scorpion. We can try to take a closer look, but it’s a grainy and fairly low resolution shot. It’s hard to tell much about Aqua, but apparently the yellow thing on his face is not a mask…it’s a fucking duck bill. When I first saw this, I pretty much mentally flushed “the legend of Aqua” down the drain. But the story doesn’t stop there. Supposedly Gamespot procured a couple of screenshots of his “Echoing Quack” being performed against Liu Kang. Again, the pic is small and blowing it up doesn’t much help. Although Aqua may be hard to take seriously, the screenshots actually look pretty convincing.
Much to my dismay, I haven’t been able to track down any further information on just how these shots were produced or procured. But the story doesn’t end there. As computers got bigger and better and the 5th generation become firmly entrenched in emulation, curious gamers started digging around in the files contained on the PAL MK Trilogy disc. A number of items were purported to have been found, though the authenticity of these items remains in question. Perhaps the most convincing object was a small, unused sound clip of what appears to be Shao Kahn/the announcer saying “Aqua Wins.” Take a listen for yourself.
Sounds legitimate, right? Some people think the recording is a little dicey or “off,” with one fan commenting that it sounds like the “Bar” from “Baraka Wins” was removed. However, I can very clearly hear a “qu / kw” sound, not a “k” sound.
Here is where the less believable “proof” begins to pop up, again said to originate within the files of the PAL version of MKT. These tidbits include actual button sequences for a movelist and fatality. Moreover, we also have alleged ending screens for the character. The dubiousness starts here. For some odd reason, Aqua has a total of 4 ending screens instead of the 3 that every other character got in MKT. Also, how were the actual button presses gleaned from the data, and if they were, wouldn’t it be possible to somehow recreate them? Even if Aqua’s sprite didn’t exist within the PAL MKT files (which ironically enough has never been mentioned; there are several unused sprites confirmed on the MKT disc including different poses and presumed background elements, but never has “Aqua” been mentioned among them) couldn’t these moves be somehow superimposed onto another character?
I don’t believe in these movelists for a second, but for the sake of argument, here they are:
- Echoing Quack – Forward, Forward, Back, High Punch
- Duck’s Back – Back, Back, Back, High Kick
- Claw Lunge – Forward, Forward, Low Punch
- Fatality – Hold Block; Up, Up, Forward, Down; Release Block
Notice anything? The special moves don’t seem to be in line with most other characters’ from Trilogy. Only a few characters possessed 4-button sequences, and if they did, it was usually only one move, and furthermore, they were typically in the form of “Forward Down Back (Action)” or “Back Down Forward (Action).” Most moves at the time were commands like “Down Forward (Action),” or “Back Back (Action),” or “Back Forward (Action).” The first 2 seem highly irregular.
Now for the “ending” screen…
Besides the obvious discrepancy of 4 ending screens, we get to see how truly ridiculous Aqua, or “Aquilloxborg Hydroxybot,” actually looks. A good attempt? Eh, I give it a B+. Some of the wording is a little strange (“cyber-oni ninja”? had “oni” even become an established term in the days of MKT?), but this would hold a lot more weight had there been only 3 screens and if the imagery was just a little more relevant. I’ll by the sound byte, and perhaps even those limited screenshots, as some sort of weird unfinished joke (wouldn’t that be grand? both an unfinished and joke character!?), but the rest of the “evidence” just goes a little too far.
Next up is the relatively straightforward story of Belokk, some sort of demon character intended for inclusion in Mortal Kombat Gold, the Sega Dreamcast exclusive update to the cross-platform Mortal Kombat 4. We get a bit of a respite from (most of the) rumors and sorting through what information is false versus the shred of truth lurking within because Boon himself confirmed the “almost existence” of Belokk.
What has been confirmed is that Belokk was indeed under development for MKG, but the team was forced to scrap him due to time constraints. Eurocom, the actual development team for MK Gold, accidentally leaked screenshots of the character (some sources say 4, others 6) to the press before the game’s actual release. (I’m still a little fuzzy on this myself – if Eurocom was the developer, then weren’t they the ones that had to scrap Belokk? And wouldn’t that mean that they knew Belokk wasn’t appearing in the final product…? Oh well, that’s how the story goes…)
Because of this flub, we get a small glimpse of who Belokk might’ve been, though the angles of the images don’t ever really afford us a great view. For better or worse, here’s all that’s left of Belokk.
Belokk is often said to be a discarded secret character, though we don’t have any real proof that there was to be anything secret at all about him. The assumption stems from the appearance of a question mark in Tanya’s box while cycling through her costumes on the Character Select Screen. The only other characters with question marks are Cyrax, Shinnok, and Reiko, which correspond to the secret characters that one can play as when selecting them in “Hidden” mode: Sektor, Goro, and Noob Saibot respectively. Some believed that “Tanya’s question mark” was a symbol of where Belokk would’ve appeared while others presumed that Belokk was still tucked away somewhere inside.
There wasn’t ever much fuss over Belokk, probably because of how poorly MKG was received. The final rumor to persist was that Belokk’s render was still tucked away intact, and that possibly by means of a third party cheat device one could choose Goro and essentially impart a “Belokk skin” over him. As you can probably guess, nothing of the sort was ever discovered.
Although there are a couple of other semi-phantom characters I want to touch on, Nimbus wraps up the main ones. Possibly playing off of the rampant Ermac rumors of the day, Mr. Terrafaux hearkens all the way back to the original incarnation of Mortal Kombat. I wish there was more of a story to tell, or even more of a climax to the Nimbus story, though he probably is the most well known of all of these non-characters (apart from Ermac who is of course now a character).
EGM ran a story about Nimbus Terrafaux in what many believe to be an April Fool’s joke (though some claim it was actually in the March issue of the magazine and incorrectly attached to April Fools Day). They claimed that a reader had sent in some info and screenshots regarding this new character, who was apparently a black kickboxer.
Most people will point to the character’s surname as being a dead giveaway as to the falsehood of the claim, with “terra” being Latin for “earth” or “land” and “faux” being French for “fake.” Personally I don’t know what “fake land” or “fake earth” has to do with a “fake character.” Oh well.
Right away these pictures should’ve sent up some red flags, especially the first one. First of all, Nimbus looks more like a Gumby doll than an MK character. It’s also easy to see that he’s about a head or two taller than Kano, which would give him a ridiculous advantage over every other character. (Think jumping attacks and counters, sweeps, and overall reach.) This is probably one of the least convincing fakes out of all the “characters” here, but Nimbus deserves a smidge of credit for sticking around so long. Game after game, fans speculate on the inclusion of Nimbus Terrafaux, and I’d be willing to bet that the 1995 film’s character of Art Lean was a direct homage to the “black kickboxer.”
There are a few more phantom-ish kombatants worth pointing out. I suppose the case could be made that the remainder of these were either not fully-formed enough to be considered characters in any sense of the word or that they come just a little too close to actual characters be considered fully phantom. Let’s get going with the most obvious contender first….
Back in MK2, on the Pit II stage, way back on the bridge in the background one can see 2 warriors appearing to square off against each other. Scroll up to the collage at the top and look at the image in the lower left if you need refresher. With Jade and Smoke hopping down on the screen and delivering all kinds of crazy clues between matches, it was understandable that fans latched onto almost any and every detail available. After all, is there really ever any way to know that all the secrets have been found?
As I said, Jade and Smoke ended up saying a lot of crazy shit when they came down; stuff like “I am one of three” was possibly the only reference to the existence of Noob Saibot, whereas “Ermac Who?” (along with the scrambled message “CEAMR ODSE NTO EXITS” after beating the game) attempted to dispel previous rumors, and then there was stuff like “Prove yourself” and “You cannot defeat me” which didn’t really mean anything except that Jade, Smoke, and Noob were damn near impossible beat. Eventually fans turned their attention towards those 2 distant figures on the bridge and combined their presence with Jade’s “Hornbuckle Who?” nonsense message.
I’m not sure how it happened – I’m not sure if anyone really knows how it happened, but somehow “Hornbuckle” became attached to the guy on the left (the one not on fire). The “man on fire” was simply named “Torch” for quite some time. The other guy turned out to be a Liu Kang sprite with his red replaced by green, similar to how the second player would look if both selected Liu Kang. At any rate, the fervor really picked up and the association was forever cemented when a certain article appeared in EGM. This doesn’t appear to be a prank on the part of the magazine, but rather a bogus set of conditions sent in by a reader. Below is the original article.
Now had the story stopped here, I guess Hornbuckle would be just as at home on this list as anyone else. However, 10 years or so later, Midway/NRS retconned the appearance of these strangers, renamed the one of the right “Blaze” (copyright issues) and spun this whole tale about Blaze being captured by a sect of holy men. So while “Hornbuckle” may not have been an actual character, the guy who fans were apt to call Hornbuckle was a priest that did actually exist in MK canon. It’s not the strongest of cases, but in the most technical of cases, we can’t really call “the green Liu Kang” a phantom character – it was just a priest in pursuit of Blaze who was called “Hornbuckle” due to a lack of information.
Although I was never that interested in “Hornbuckle and Blaze,” I think we could’ve gotten a better story out of them than this. Here’s a fun piece of fan art using the appropriate sprite, with some modifications, facing off against none other than Tremor!
Named after some ancient Babylonian god, the short story of Tiamat helps to partially explain Reptile’s radical overhaul in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. Found in the Krypt of MK:DA, concept art shows that Tiamat was envisioned as a lizard-like warrior. For whatever reason, the character was scrapped and his design elements were folded into Reptile.
To be honest, Reptile’s appearance in Deadly Alliance always kind of bothered me. I didn’t hate the design itself, it just rubbed me the wrong way that this thing was branded “Reptile.” The tale of Tiamat at least provides some explanation for the abrupt change though.
So why isn’t Tiamat on the main list? I couldn’t really reconcile him as real enough character to even exist as a phantom character. It’s little more than an idea, and arguably an idea that was folded into an existing character.
Tiamat keeps company with another piece of concept art out of the MK:DA Krypt: Zebron. Joke? Probably. Apparently there’s a fragment of story stating that he’s a prince looking to free his race. Zebron’s one and only shining moment came prior to the release of Deadly Alliance, when the upcoming game was known simply as “MK5.” A Zebron sketch was placed on the official site to fuel speculation, and later on the image in the Krypt was accompanied with “we would never do a zebra character…or would we?” This tuxedo-clad zebra barely deserves a mention, which is why I’m bumping him down a peg from all out “phantom character” status.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Zebron is that there appears to petition by fans to include him in “MK 11.” I sincerely hope he doesn’t make the cut, but hey, here’s more proof that a very vocal subset of MK fans are reticent to let anything live and die as a joke or red herring.
Will we ever see them again?
Many of these characters were dreamt up by fans (both in private and professional arenas) and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see them in an official capacity, though I’d be an idiot to dismiss them completely. However, if done the right way, I think it’d be great if NRS put out a small game, maybe DLC only, done in the old digitized style and featuring a cast of these phantoms. That could be a great project for a fan with a little bit of know-how to tackle, especially since several of them could be made from existing characters…
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Are there any other phantom characters I missed? Have any of these ever grabbed your attention at one time or another? Are you eager to see fighters like Khrome and Emerald thrown into the mix or are you happier with the rumors keeping their distance from the MK canon? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!
Written by The Cubist
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